If there is one thing that will attract a large number of teens and tweens to a program, it’s food. The old adage, “the way to a man’s teen’s heart is through the stomach,” has certainly proven true…and it is reflected in my program numbers. Since I stumbled upon this little tidbit as a new librarian, I have since made a habit of doing a Teen Top Chef program on afternoons when the Teens in my community have Early Release. My most recent program was held on Jan. 16 and the theme was Mexican Fiesta.
For this program, I went to Aldi and picked up various food items that would be found in the Mexican aisle (a list of my ingredients is included at the end of this post). I also chose one food item that might be found in Mexican, but would be strange to see in all three courses. This is the secret ingredient, and for our Mexican Fiesta, I chose corn.
Rather than doing three rounds, as you would normally see on the show Top Chef, I chose to allow the participants to create all three courses at once. Here is the timeline for my event:
1:30-1:45 p.m. – Have the teens split into teams (3 to 4 per team). Explain the 5 rules of this program.
- You must use 5 ingredients for each course and 1 of these MUST be the secret ingredient.
- You must make 3 of each course (one per judge), totaling 9 dishes per group.
- Each of your dishes in a given course should be identical (or as close to identical as possible).
- Your dish should be equivalent to one bite of food (to reduce waste).
- You MUST wear gloves at all times while handling food.
1:45 p.m. – Reveal the secret ingredient. YAY! It’s CORN!!
1:45 – 2:15 p.m. – BEGIN! Teens are allowed to create their culinary masterpieces.
Depending on your library’s set-up, you might be able to actually let them cook their food (wearing gloves, please). My library does not have a kitchen or program room that allows for actual cooking of food, so I provided them with a microwave, and for the Mexican Fiesta, I brought crockpots of rice, beans, fajita chicken, and taco beef. They are basically assembling their food items (which still proved to be a fun activity).
2:15 -3:00 p.m. – Judging (this can take a long time, depending on how many teams you have)
One team at a time, teens are allowed to present each course to the judges. I usually ask library staff from various departments to help out as judges. The teens really get a kick out of seeing the library director as a judge (that has to eat whatever they make). While other teams are being judges, everyone else is allowed to socialize quietly and discuss their “game plan” for presenting to the judges. Teams are judged based on Creativity, Appearance, and Taste and an overall winning team is selected as Teen Top Chef. Since my last program, we have also added prizes for Best Appetizer/Salad Course, Best Main Dish, Best Dessert Course, and Team Congeniality.
3:00 p.m. – The winners are announced and they are allowed to select their prizes. After it’s all said and done, everyone gets to finish off the food and help with clean-up.
Ingredients for a Mexican Fiesta:
- Secret ingredient: Canned Corn
- Cherry Tomatoes
- Canned, dices tomatoes
- Lettuce [I just bought a head of lettuce; shredded half and chopped the other half myself…big money saver]
- Flour tortillas [cookie-cuttered into smaller rounds]
- Tortilla chips/Scoops
- Mexican Rice [microwavable]
- Taco Beef [I prepared the beef with taco seasoning the night before the program]
- Fajita Chicken [I prepared chicken with fajita seasoning in a crock pot the day before the program]
- Refried Beans
- Sweet mini peppers
- Sour cream
- Cream Cheese
- Diced mango (thawed)
- Diced pineapple (with juice)
- Vanilla wafers
- Mexican-blend shredded cheese
- Black olives
- Sliced radishes
- Lime wedges
Total Expenditure for this program: $40.00
A special thank you goes out to my former supervisor, Sarah Newton, for giving me the idea for this program. Thanks, Sarah!